The particular pleasures of rereading

queenAt the moment, I’m rereading three books. Two of these–The Queen of Attolia and The Goblin Emperor–I’ve already reread multiple times (QoA so much that I’m beginning to worry about the binding). The third–Tamar Adler’s lovely An Everlasting Meal–I’ve only previously read once. I’m reading all three slowly, as the mood strikes me, and something about this made me consider the joys of rereading.

Some people aren’t rereaders and others are. I always have been. I can remember spending long summers immersed in the familiar world of LM Montgomery, reading all over our backyard and getting popsicle juice on the books. In middle school, I read and reread and rerereread Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword. Later, I was basically always rereading something by Tolkien. These days, I have to be more deliberate about my rereading habits, and yet I do frequently pick up a book I’ve read before.

But I haven’t particularly articulated why I keep returning to certain books, why part of my personal definition of a good book is, “a book that holds up to rereading.”

In the first place, once you’re past the initial read through a book, you don’t have to deal with that pesky issue of plot anymore. For me, plot is usually distracting, either because it’s bad and I keep arguing with it, or because it’s good and therefore too gripping and tense. Once I know roughly what is going to happen in a story, I can focus more on what I really  love: characters and writing.

And in addition, my favorite authors usually build in layers of complexity. It takes time and revisiting to unravel them all. One of the things I love about rereading Megan Whalen Turner, for example, is the way I make new connections and find things I had previously overlooked. Even though I have parts of her books almost memorized, she still surprises me. For the kind of subtle, deep writers that I tend to love, rereading can practically be a necessity.

It’s also true that–especially in certain moods and at certain times of the year–I find great value in knowing what I’m getting myself into. It’s not that I only want light books, but that I want books that are a known quantity. And there are books that feel like old friends, which I slip into easily and fully no matter what else is going on. The Perilous Gard is a prime example, as is almost anything by Georgette Heyer.

But rereading isn’t only a particular form of nostalgia. It often asks me to revisit my past readings of a book. Does my old assessment of this character or that plot point hold up? Do I see things differently in my current time of life or frame of mind? It reminds me that reading and reacting to books is an active and ongoing process, that what I think about any given author is never fixed.

Ultimately, I find that rereading gives me a sense of depth and understanding which enriches my experience of the book. Whether I notice something I had always overlooked, or realize that I don’t hold to a previous reading, or simply deepen my understanding and love for the story, rereading gives me something special.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “The particular pleasures of rereading

  1. Completely agree with you. I find myself too criticizing whenever I read a book. Re-reading books makes me appreciate it better. One experience I had was with Catcher in the Rye. I remember hating that book so much and then loving it on my re-read. Rereading a book is always an eye-opening experience.

  2. What a lovely, lovely post. It’s certainly made me think about re-reading some of the books that I very much enjoyed previously!

  3. Yes to everything you said! (And I reread the exact same books. (Except I’ve never read Everlasting Meal, but now I’m thinking I should look it up!) I think it takes me about 5 reads of a MWT book to feel like I’ve even understood everything that’s going on, let alone noticed all the little things.

    I wrote a whole blog post about why I reread a few years ago: http://kaippersbach.blogspot.ca/2012/02/compulsive-re-reading-or-why-i-never.html

    • Maureen Eichner

      I think it takes me about 5 reads of a MWT book to feel like I’ve even understood everything that’s going on, let alone noticed all the little things

      Yes! She’s such a complex writer.

  4. Oh, I’m so with you that when I say I really love a book, the desire to reread it is one of the main things I mean. I am like this with most things, not just books — I like things that are familiar, as a rule, more than I like things that are new. (The culture is very opposed to this mindset but TOO BAD, that’s how I am.)

    MEGAN WHALEN TURNERRRRRRRRRRRRR, also. I love her.

    • Maureen Eichner

      MEGAN WHALEN TURNERRRRRR YESSSSSS.

      I’ve noticed that I feel more of a pressure these days to focus on new! shiny! things–which I often do love, but which I also have to remember to balance with the things that are more familiar and beloved.

  5. So very true! In my own private book rating system, I only ever give 10s to books that I already have or am certain I will re-read – because if it’s not worth rereading, it can’t be all that great, right?

    Lots of my rereading right now is reading aloud to or listening to audio books with my son. We’re doing Chrestomanci books right now, and I think MWT will be up very soon.

    • Maureen Eichner

      Yes, I’ve been finding audiobooks are a great way to reread something if you’re feeling the pressure of all the books you haven’t read!

  6. This is lovely, I especially like your point about rereading as a way to commune with our past selves and trace changes in our thoughts, outlook, and in what we value.

    • Maureen Eichner

      Thank you, Ana! I think I notice it particularly because there have been several radical shifts in my outlook on certain things, and rereading can be a great way to reflect on them. And of course there’s just a changing/deepening understanding of things which affect my reading as well.

  7. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-21-2016 | The Author Chronicles

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